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Why Grains Are Bad For Us

People wonder, How can something as wholesome looking as grains be bad for us?  We think of those "amber waves of grain", those earthy tones, we think of Sandy Duncan standing among the tall, wispy filaments with her box of Wheat Thins (if you're old enough, that is!) How can something as common to our diet as cereal and bread and pasta and even whole grains like bulgar wheat and millet be bad for us?

First of all, we have to realize that while grains contain nutrients, they are hard for the body to digest.  And second of all we have to look at how heavily these hard to digest foods tend to weigh into our average diet through cereal and pastries and bread and pasta and pizza and just every other thing. 

So why is it that grains are so hard to digest?


Here is a long and helpful answer to the the anti-nutrient problem with grains, as quoted from Diane SanFillipino in her bestselling book Practical Paleo:

Is Your Gut Leaky?

What happens in your small intestine doesn't always stay in your small intestine.

It is the root of your health, and much of what goes on in the rest of your body beins with what happens in this organ, otherwise known as your gut.

So, how does your gut become "leaky"? Clinically known as increased intestinal permeability, leaky gut is a condition in which the cells that line your small intestine begin to lose their integrity. Remember that the foods you eat don't actually get into the cells of your body until they have been broken down and allowed to pass through the small intestinal lining. For a myriad of reasons led strongly by the consumption of food rich in anti-nutrients day in and day out, this process stops working properly. The normal tight junctions between the cells loosen, causing the entire defense system to become compromised.

What Are Anti-Nutrients?

They are primarily plant-based defense mechanisms that are concentrated around the reproductive force in a seed or grain. Consider this: every living thing has a defense mechanism. Plants can't run  when they're under attack, so to ensure that they continue to thrive and grow, they have internal defenses to fight against predators. To the plant, and more specifically, the seed of the grain of the plant (its reproductive force), your digestive system is just such a predator. These defense mechanisms in the plant fight against your digestion, blocking your ability to fully break the food down into harmless amino acids that are easily absorbed into your cells. In other words, anti-nutrients are elements within a food that either prevent or disrupt the proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients contained in that food.

The Foods Richest in Anti-Nutrients Are:

* Whole grains, whole grain products, grain-like seeds and legumes that include but is not limited to, wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, brown rice, corn, quinoa, lentils, red beans, black beans, pinto beans, and navy beans.

*Refined grains and refined grain products, including white rice, flour, bread, cereal, crackers, cookies,or pasta

It's amazing, isn't it, that our culture's diet is centered around these anti-nutrients foods? If I told you I had an omelet for breakfast, a slice of quiche for lunch, and an egg souffle for dinner, you might say, "Isn't that a lot of eggs?" Yet, if I had eaten cereal for breakfast, a sandwhich for lunch, and pasta for dinner, it probably wouldn't occur to you to ask, "Isn't that a lot of grains?"

Still, if you don't think ahead about what you will eat, most of the food you will find in stores, restaurants- pretty much everywhere-- are patially grain based. Even though our eating habits didn't center around grains for most of human history (our ancestors ate whole foods, not foods from factories), we're so accustomed to grain-bsed foods today- both refined and so-called "whole" grains-- that we seldom question if we're overdoing it. We've been incorrectly taught that it's easy to deigest grains. Not so!

Why Are Anti-Nutrients Such A Problem?

The truth is that we lack the digestive capacity to break down those gnarly anti-nutrients in grains. Some believe that over thousands of years of human evolution, our bodies have simply not adapted the digestive enzymes necessary to process grains. Plus, the methods of preparing grains and legumes that were used by traditional cultures are a thing of the past in the industrialized wold.

It may also be that our modern upbringing has not supported the complete and healthy development of our digestive systems so that we might be able to tolderate these foods when eates as a small part of our diet. So many of our modern habits contibute to the weakened digestive function-- a lifetime of eating refined foods, grain products, processed/pasteurzed dairy products, and sugar, as well as reound after round of antibiotics, stress, NSAID painkillers, and alcohol.

While your system is fully equipped to handle animal proteins that don't carry these anti-nutrients, eating large quantities of digestion-resistant foods day after day can wreak havoc. Large quantitites, in this case, can mean even just one slice of bread, one cracker, or a small serving of pasta. Any portion of grain products can cause problems in your body. Each time ou eat one of these small portions, you consume hundred or even thousands of tiny anti-nutrients-bearing Trojan Horses.

Even just a few decades ago, people realized that there were ways to make grains and legumes mor digestible and that simply picking them from plants and grinding them did not make them suitable for consumption. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting them essentially "tricks" the grains and legumes (as well as seeds and  nuts, for that matter)  into thinking that they've been planted, allowing them to release some of their anti-nutrients and make their actual nutrients (vitamins and minerals) available and accessible. While the outer portion of grains and legumes forms a barrier when planted, the nutrients the nutrients inside are there to fuel the seed on its mission to grow into a plant.

Nevertheless, even if most people were willing to soak, sprout and ferment their grains before eating them, the process only helps to digest grains and legumes slightly better. The reality is that meat, vegetables, and naturally occuring fats are all more nutrient-dense and less irritating to the gut than sprouted grains.

      --  Diane SanFilippo, BS, NC, Practical Paleo